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A Vision For Circular Architecture

Converting circular economy ideas and thinking into practice for the built environment has typically been a challenge. Wasteful processes, expensive, energy intensive and rigid in design, the conception and construction of buildings has remained much the same for decades. However, there are those who are now beginning to think differently including, designers, builders and architects looking to challenge and transform the fundamental paradigms that have dominated the industry.

Some of that work has happened in Duiven, near Arnhem, the Netherlands, where a cluster of buildings have been newly renovated into an impressive head office housing more than 1500 workers for energy grid company Liander, the complex was unveiled on November 12.

A large atrium covered by an attractive roof, with a glass facade, connects the different elements, creating a large communal area in between. The roof’s design and curved structure mimics natural ventilation structures optimising the temperature, while large skylights help to filter and enhance the amount of daylight that gets through. Biomimetic innovation is a critical element to the building’s entire design, which is geared towards optimising energy usage. Fitted with solar panels and underground water for thermal storage, the structure is energy positive and actively redistributes excess power to the local grid.

Credit: Turntoo
Credit: Turntoo

According to several reports, this is the first energy positive building site in the Netherlands, but the scale is perhaps what makes it most impressive, most energy positive buildings have tended to be diminutive in size.

Being energy positive is only one aspect of the development’s transformative focus, a demonstration of material value maximisation is another element that makes the Liander building significant. Despite making some significant architectural changes in re-developing and combining the previous structures, the project still managed to re-utilise more than 80% of the raw materials from the original structures.

Credit: Turntoo
Credit: Turntoo

Furthermore, Turntoo co-founder, Sabine Oberhuber told Circulate that a further 80% of the materials in the current structure could be used again beyond the current architecture’s lifespan. Oberhuber views material information as a critical element in embedding circular economy practices in the built environment and Turntoo is already known for its pioneering work in creating material passports for structures. The passport provides information on all of the materials used within the building, including their lifespan and potential opportunities for reuse.

As described on the company’s website, “waste is material without information, so by providing material with adequate information, we prevent waste and create value”.

Credit: Turntoo
Credit: Turntoo

Full documentation of the “depot of materials” in the new Liander head offices has been created, which should enable more effective maintenance, re-development and value maximisation in the future.

RAU architects led on the design work, and as well as Turntoo, the collaborators involved in the project included, Volker Wessels Vastgoed, Fokkema & Partners, Innax, Kuiper Compagnons, Van Rossum R.I., Boele & van Eesteren and Homij

Reimagining building structures also required consulting with some unusual partners. A roller coaster company helped to design the metal structure that holds the roof together. The desired design was something lightweight, which reduced material consumption and was easily reconstructable. All together, the final roof used 30% less steel than traditional approaches.

The final design is both efficient and effective, generates more energy than it uses, takes advantage of existing materials, while still providing qualitative benefits in terms of functionality and comfort. The building looks and feels new and the raw material savings ensured that costs were significantly lower compared against a new construction.

Replicating success is difficult in a varied sector. However, the principles of the Liander development, a project that shows that material reuse in construction is possible and demonstrates the potential of innovative design, have a place in the conversation about the future of the built environment.

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The Author

Seb Egerton-Read

Seb Egerton-Read

Seb writes daily content for Circulate across the full spectrum of the website's topics. Previously he has spent five years as a freelance writer for a number of websites and blogs. You can e-mail Seb at seb[at]circulatenews.org